Re: Rand and the Reality of Self-Sacrifice

From: phil osborn (
Date: Tue Aug 15 2000 - 22:31:48 MDT

>From: "Technotranscendence" <>
>Subject: Re: Rand and the Reality of Self-Sacrifice
>Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2000 08:14:01 -0700
>If the "self" and "values" are objective, then it's quite easy to see how
>their destruction can be real and not merely just a matter of arbitrarily
>labeling things as such. One need not swallow all of Rand's philosophy or
>even all of her ethics to see this is so. Anything which destroys one,
>where one does so willingly is self-sacrifice, right?
>Also, Kant, e.g., in his _Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals_ tries
>separate moral actions from pleasure. Granted, this might be hard to do in
>practice, but his notion is that the good should be pursued regardless of
>its consequences, especially regardless of pleasure and happiness. That
>people practice this so sternly is perhaps because this view of morality is
>so antithetical to living life it can hardly be consistently practiced.
>(Why? Well, if one consistently practices it, one will have little
>emotional feedback, one will be miserable, and, ultimately, to sacrifice
>one's self means to get rid of one's self, which means to be no more, which
>means to stop being an actor, moral or otherwise.)
>Daniel Ust

Rand must be turning in her grave for sure now - defended by a Kantian
argument!!! As you probably know, she considered Kant to be thoroughly evil
and his philosophy utterly anti-human. Nonetheless, with much trepedition
and foreboding in anticipation of wasted time, I have to say that yours is
the first post I've noticed on this thread that actually bears on the
fundamental issue raised - is there such a thing as actual selfishness? Or
is it merely indistinguishable from "intent."

Clearly, without a referent independent of the subjective intent of the
person, whatever the person chooses to do must be considered to be selfish.
If "selfishness" is to have content, it must be possible to be unselfish.
To say that selfish actions have as their intended benficiary the actor
himself merely puts the same logical obstacle one step further away in the
logical chain. It is only when one poses an external referent - external to
the will - as the determining quality that selfishness becomes meaningful.

Rand herself gets into this line of argumentation in "The Fountainhead" as I
recall, when one of the characters is admonished by one of the villians
against enjoying her good works. If she enjoys it, then it wasn't truly
selfless after all, and she's just cheating. Only if you act without
desire, without pleasure, without the anticipation of a desired outcome, can
you be truly "selfless." But are "selfless" and "selfish" opposites?

The next question, however, is: If selfishness is distinguished from
unselfishness by some objective criteria, then, nevertheless, what
difference could it possibly make? Suppose I come up to you and say, "Bad,
Daniel, bad, bad! You weren't being selfish. And I can prove it by
reference to 'The Objective Rules for Being Selfish,' vol. VI, Pg. 397."
And you agree! How could you have done any differently if you always act in
every circumstance with the intent of achieving a better state?

Ah, but you do act differently with different knowledge... The "will" does
not exist as a floating abstraction independent of input. The only rational
critique I can make then is that on some level you were ignorant of what was
truly, really, objectively in your true, real, objective self-interest.
Rand's position, then, boils down to a rejection of any argument that starts
out postulating that one should act against one's self-interest, and then,
like Aristotle, laying out what constitutes, in principle, what objectively
is in your self-interest. I.e., what are values, why they have that
characteristic, how to identify them in reality, how to rank them, what
methods and habits of behavior - virtues - are most likely to achieve a life
filled with real values.

If, as Rand argues, man - or any uploaded or SI progeny he may produce - has
a specific nature - like every other thing in the universe - then he needs
specific kinds of things to survive as the kind of being he is. That
objective reality is the foundation for any discussion of objective value
and thus what really constitutes selfishness.
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